Legend: BLUE-open, RED-closed, GREEN-by donation
Click here to view the accidental yogist's map of los angeles yoga studios in a full-size page

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

yoga in the 'hood

Crenshaw Yoga and Dance
5426 Crenshaw Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90043
(323) 294-7148
website: www.crenshawyogaanddance.com

The atmosphere creates a warm relaxing sanctuary where students can feel peaceful and at ease as they engage in their yoga practice... However, the true uniqueness and unmistakable beauty that lies in this company grows more each day as it continues to make serving the local community its number one priority. Each year CYD outreaches to local businesses, schools, and centers with the goal of bringing yoga directly to these facilities and making yoga more accessible to everyone in the inner-city community. Part of the mission of CYD is to encourage people to value and maintain a healthy lifestyle. The company does its part in making this task more obtainable by vowing to provide yoga and dance at the most affordable price possible.

let's face it... if you look at the platial map at the top of this web page, you'll notice that most of the yoga studios in LA are located in affluent neighborhoods: venice, santa monica, brentwood, pasadena, sherman oaks, and the south bay (ok, so many of the south bay studios aren't on my map yet, but i'm getting there). and why is that? it's because most of those who can afford to practice yoga live or work in those neighborhoods. either they have the money, or the time or, if they're really lucky, both.

for the most part, the students at these upscale studios are the beautiful people -- the young, the slim, the athletic. honestly, if you were new to los angeles and wanted to see the gorgeous california girls that you've heard so much about, don't bother going to the fabled corner of hollywood and vine; instead, hang around the lobbies of yogaworks, sacred movement, and maha yoga -- they're all there.

so what if you want to take a yoga class, but thought of flexing and chanting with the rich and famous intimidates you? or maybe you just don't want to have to drive for miles just to plunk down good money for yoga guidance?

you can tune in to a yoga class on TV. for example, steve ross from maha yoga has his monday-thru-friday inhale show on oxygen TV. you can follow along from the privacy of your home for free. that assumes, of course, that you get the oxygen channel on cable TV.

you can also rent or buy any one of the numerous yoga videos online or in the stores. reading a review could help you pick out the one that'll work the best for you. there are many review sites on the internet; here's one for starters: www.yourexercisedvds.com/yoga

or you can buy a yoga instruction book and try to follow along. the only problem might be trying to keep the page open to the pose you're trying to imitate while both of your hands and feet are on the floor and your cat's decided to make the book its new plaything.

either way, you're missing out on the posture corrections that only a trained teacher can give you in a yoga class. so what to do now?

if you live in or near south central los angeles, you're in luck. you won't have to go far to get to crenshaw yoga and dance. they invite you to come as you are. and are happy when you do.

their students are regular folk. they're male, they're female. they're young, they're old. they come in all shapes and sizes. they're dressed for comfort rather than fashion trend (forget investing in prana and lululemon; your favorite sweats will do just fine). and like you, they weren't able to touch their toes their first time. and they still may not be able to.

not only that, but it won't cost you an arm and a leg. your first class will set you back only $2. every class after that will cost you $10 (about 30% cheaper than the going studio class rate). and it gets cheaper if you're willing to make the commitment and buy a class series; it works out to $7 a class if you buy a package of 20 classes. and if you're a really dedicated yogi, $70 buys you a month of unlimited yoga. with the cheapest monthly rate being $90 at yogaworks (good at the larchmont location only), crenshaw yoga's the best deal in town!

crenshaw yoga is located on crenshaw boulevard, just south of 54th street. there was ample street parking when i got there. i was a bit leery of my surroundings as i walked the half block to the studio; after all, a wikipedia entry described the neighborhood thusly:

"... the growth of the gang-dominated crack cocaine trade in the 1980s made Crenshaw district one of the most violent neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with the stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard between Slauson Avenue and Adams Boulevard remaining a virtual free-fire zone for years..."

and that's exactly where i was. thugs don't attack peace-loving, mat-carrying yogis, or do they?

as i walked up to the place, the fact that there were no bars on windows nor buzzers on gates was a comforting sight. instead, the glass doors were left wide open to allow the stream of smiling students to enter the premises. i was greeted by karlee young, the owner of crenshaw yoga. she handed me the registration form and collected my $2 fee. i told her that i was there to take a class with her daughter melissa, but she told me that melissa was on sabbatical and that theresa brown would be teaching the all-level class. since theresa also happens to teach the power yoga classes, i was fine with the change.

unlike most classes where i'm usually the only non-white in the room, this time i was the only non-black. by now, i'm used to being the odd (wo)man out; come to think of it, even when i was in manila i was "different" because i spoke with a different accent... i guess you could say there's no one like me :)

there were about a dozen students in the room. everyone had blankets and blocks and straps, so i followed their lead and picked some up from the back of the room. since i knew nothing about the teacher's background nor the level of the students in the class, i was just going to have to go with the flow and play it by ear. i sat down on my mat and waited for the class to start.

theresa taught a slow, deliberate class. we set our intentions and got centered. then we went through the sun salutations step-by-step, with her describing how we were supposed to be breathing, where each limb was supposed to be, how everything was supposed to line up. instead of crescent poses, we did knee-to-the-floor lunges; instead of upward dogs, we did low cobras. once again i found myself in a basics class, but as is often the case, this teacher's focus was different from that of my last teacher.

i noticed that i was getting corrected a lot. was it because she knew i was new and was watching me a bit more closely? or maybe she believes in doing the postures a different way? or could it be... that i had actually gotten careless in my form and needed the adjustments? so much for my thinking that i was close to perfection... in my dreams!

here are excerpts from an article from the los angeles wave, published in 2004, right before crenshaw yoga opened its doors to the public:

"Kar Lee and Melissa Young are taking a big risk that has already cost them an estimated $60,000 and countless hours out of their lives.
The mother-and-daughter entrepreneurial team will hold the grand opening Saturday for a business that is rare if not unheard of for the Crenshaw community -- a yoga studio.
"We didn't do any market research," admits Melissa, a economics major at UCLA. Instead they're stepping out on faith that African-Americans in the community who've never had the opportunity to experience the healing properties of yoga will at least take one class to see what it's all about. They're also hoping to snag those tuned in folks who typically drive to Hollywood or the Westside for a class.
So far the entrepreneurs' initial enthusiasm has been buoyed by the 20 to 30 people who have dropped by the studio daily to inquire about what's going on.
"We've got kids from Crenshaw High coming in, and people from the gym next door (Black Diamond)," Melissa said.
But the key, she points out is whether that interest will actually translate into follow-through.
Kar Lee believes persistence and sticking to their dream will be the key to success."

the fact that they're still around after two years proves that they've succeeded, doesn't it?